Beto O'Rourke is at 2% in national polls for the Democratic presidential nomination and is not even polling that well in the four early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. But, according to the results of a Texas Lyceum Poll released Thursday, the former El Paso congressman is running second in Texas to former Vice President Joe Biden, and leading the field among women, Hispanics and voters under 45.
The finding suggests that if O'Rourke can weather the four February contests, or especially if he exceeds expectations in one or more of those states, he could get a lift when Texas votes on March 3, along with California the big prize on the delegate-rich Super Tuesday of the 2020 nominating contest, following the intense combat but relatively sparse actual rewards that precede it.
The poll conducted Aug. 16-25, offered no comparable comfort for the other Texan in the race, former San Antonio Mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, who is polling at closer to 1% nationally, and was lagging back in the Democratic pack in Texas with 4%.
The poll found Biden was the choice of 24% of likely Democratic voters in Texas, followed by O'Rourke at 18%, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 15%, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 13%, and California Sen. Kamala Harris and Castro at 4% each.
“This result is probably disappointing to Castro supporters, particularly his current standing among Hispanics in the state,” said Daron Shaw, University of Texas government professor, who oversaw the poll with Joshua Blank, the Lyceum's research director. “But the Texas primary is more than six months away, and so much is going to happen between now and then. What is clear, though, is that both Castro and O’Rourke need a strong showing somewhere prior to March 3, 2020 in order to convince Texans that they stand a real chance.”
Among Hispanic Democrats, Castro placed fifth with 7.9%, behind O'Rourke, at 22.7%, Biden at 16.3%, Warren at 13.8% and Sanders at 13.4%.
Biden was the top choice of black voters, at 33%, twice Warren's draw, and just behind her, O'Rourke.
O'Rourke had the biggest gender gap of any candidate, winning the support of a quarter of all women, more than twice his rate among men. The only other candidate with a noticeable gender gap was Biden, who does better with men than women, though his gap is not nearly as large as O'Rourke's.
O'Rourke and Sanders both do better with younger than older voters. The reverse is true for Biden and Warren.
Nationally, the RealClearPolitics polling average has Biden leading the field with 30.4% followed by Warren at 17.1% and Sanders at 16.3%, suggesting that O'Rourke, who raised and spent a record $80 million in his close but losing challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018, is eating into Biden's margin in Texas.
Blank said that considering Biden is the best known candidate, "one would have to ask whether his scoring between 20% and 30% is his floor or his ceiling."
Both O'Rourke and Castro met the fundraising and polling thresholds necessary to secure a spot on the stage at Texas Southern University Thursday for the third Democratic debate. Winnowed to 10 candidates, this will be the first debate with all the candidates on the same stage the same night, a three-hour affair.
In addition to Biden, O'Rourke, Warren, Sanders, Harris and Castro, the other candidates in the next debate are Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who are both at 3% in the new Texas poll, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who are each at 2% in Texas. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who did not make the debate stage, is also at 2%. No other Democratic candidate had more than 1%.
While the Lyceum Poll did not test a general election race in Texas between President Donald Trump and the various Democrats, it did find that Texas adults — the full Lyceum survey includes both those registered and unregistered to vote — are closely divided on Trump, with 48% saying he is doing a good job, and 51% saying that he is doing a poor job. Last year, 44% of all Texans approved of Trump's job performance. A large majority of Republicans, at 79%, give the president positive marks, with 45% rating him as doing a very good job and 34% saying he is doing a somewhat good job. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats rate Trump as doing a very poor job as president, with 21% saying he is doing a somewhat poor job.
Gov. Greg Abbott looked to be in very good political shape in the poll, which came after the mass shooting in El Paso but before last weekend’s shooting rampage in Midland and Odessa. Among all Texas adults, 67% approved of Abbott’s performance as governor, and 33% disapproved. While 86% of Republicans like the job Abbott is doing, so do 48% of Democrats.
Abbott’s approval also crossed racial and ethnic lines. While Anglo Texans give Abbott the highest overall job approval rating, at 72%, 57% of African Americans, and 65% of Hispanics also like him.
The Texas Lyceum conducted a 1,000-person telephone survey of adult citizens questioned by live interviewers. An additional supplement of 200 interviews among Texas adults confirmed as unregistered was completed online, for a total statewide sample of 1,200 adults. The overall margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 2.83 percentage points for the full sample. The margin of error for the 358 registered Democrats who said they would vote in the Democratic primary is plus or minus 5.18%.